Minor Scale

Dear J—

At one point or another I had enough knowledge of music theory to tell you which tones were whole steps and which were half on the chromatic and diatonic minor scales. Let’s see … C – D is a whole step, D – E flat is half, E flat – F is whole, F – G is whole, G – A flat is half, (chromatic) A flat – B is whole while (diatonic) A flat – B flat is one and a half, and (chromatic) B – C is half while (diatonic) B flat – C is whole. I would draw up a little keyboard for reference while I tried to sort it out in my head. You’d learn about octaves and arpeggios, how to put together major chords and sevenths, and all the while never better knowing what the mathematics were behind it.

Oh sure, you scoff at the mathematics, but each note has its own frequency (I keep seeing 446 Hz = A running through my mind, but I suspect I may be wrong) and each step means a certain spacing and distance. There are times I wonder about this – why have we suddenly decided that this interval makes an octave – but it holds true, no matter the scale system, chromatic, diatonic or pentatonic. Music is, in this sense, an expression of the mathematics of nature, like how a golden spiral describes the sunflower seeding or how bubbles minimize surface area for their enclosed volume because of the efficiencies of surface tension.

I like the idea of underlying orderliness and perhaps that’s why I did reasonably well with music theory when underneath that, I’m a pretty hopeless musician (I will try to impose patterns where they’re suggested and pout when they don’t fit). Some parts of your life are hopelessly, unimaginably chaotic and uncontrollable, usually the parts where you intersect with other people. Other people, because you can’t control what they do or what happens next, but you can fix how you deal with it, your own knowledge of you and what you’re likely to say before it’s too late and out of your head. Is that the whole step or just the half next? It means the world if you’re not on key.

Mike

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